Bug o’the Week – Ninebark – a Bug Magnet

Greetings, BugFans,

A few years ago, when the BugLady wrote about the ninebark leaf beetle (Calligrapha spiraea) https://uwm.edu/field-station/rorschach-beetles-family-chrysomelidae/, she made a mental note to pay more attention to ninebark (Physocarpus opulifolius) during its blooming period.  Ninebark?  The way the BugLady heard the story, the shrub’s name comes from the German word “nein” for “no,” a reference to the fact that the smooth bark of the young branches looks like no bark at all (some non-German botanist eventually rearranged the vowels so that they made sense to him).  Anyway, a ninebark in bloom is a heap of beautiful flowers – opulifolius, indeed – and this year she watched some ninebarks that were humming with insects.  More than twenty species, in fact, most of them nectar-feeders!

Yes, it is reminiscent of that old-time favorite Bridal wreath, which is also in the rose family.

There were two species of SOLDIER FLIES, including the spectacular, green Odontomyia cincta.  Soldier flies are an interesting bunch of often-sluggish flies (family Stratiomyidae) who fold their wings over their backs like a closed scissors and whose antennae are “Y”-shaped.  The larvae develop in damp-to-wet habitats; spindle-shaped aquatic larvae often float at the surface, breathing through tubes in their posterior (https://uwm.edu/field-station/soldier-fly/).

At least three species of SWEAT BEES were there.  They also come in brown, and in green with a stripy abdomen.  These small, solitary bees are important pollinators of both native plants and (imported) agricultural crops like alfalfa.  The green one is in the genus Augochlora – or maybe Augochlorella or Augochloropsis; the one with the red abdomen is in the genus Sphecodes.  And yes, they are attracted to sweat, landing on your skin to lap sweat up with their short tongues, sometimes stinging as they are brushed off.  Happily, the Schmidt Sting Pain Index ranks them as the least painful of all stinging insects.

Sweat bees beware – the beautiful, little NOMADA bee has you in her sights!  Female sweat bees make nest tunnels and provision chambers within them for their eggs.  Nomada bees find those caches, lay an egg within, and her larvae eat the food that was stashed by the hard-working mining or sweat bee.  It’s called kleptoparasitism/cleptoparasitism.  For more about Nomada, see https://uwm.edu/field-station/spotted-nomad-bee/.

Male MOSQUITOES are vegetarians, sucking nectar from flowers and imbibing plant sap and aphid honeydew.  Females are, too, except when those species that do need a protein boost in order to lay their eggs must find some blood.  Not all species do, and some only look for a blood meal when they want to lay a second brood.  We love to hate them, but they are (grudgingly) highly sophisticated organisms that are excellent at what they do.

The BugLady always gets a kick out of finding the odd-looking, knobby-kneed MOLORCHUS beetles (Molorchus bimaculatus, probably), members of the Long-horned beetle family Cerambycidae.  She finds them on white flower heads in spring, disappearing into the flowers head first as they feed.

The other Cerambycid she saw was PIDONIA RUFICOLIS (probably), a widespread eastern beetle about which nobody says much of anything.

The extravagant VIRGINIA CTENUCHA MOTH is a largish (wingspread 2”), day (and night)-flying moth that’s frequently mistaken for a butterfly.  Some references place them in a group called the “wasp moths,” which includes species that are more obviously wasp-mimics than the Ctenucha is.  Adults are nectar-sippers; caterpillars grow up on a variety of grasses, sedges, and irises.  The “C” is silent.

FLESH FLY – what an evocative name.  It was (mostly) earned by the larvae, which are scavengers on decaying organic matter, dung (and open wounds), but the tweedy adults aren’t blameless.  Along with nectar, they sponge up fluids that result from the decay of dead plants, animals, and dung https://uwm.edu/field-station/flesh-fly/.

There are about 6,000 species of SYRPHID FLIES in the world (813 in North America).  These bee mimics land lightly on flowers (they’re also called Hover Flies and Flower Flies) to glean pollen and nectar.  There were several species on the ninebark.

Last, but not least, the BugLady saw six species of BUTTERFLIES – Red admiral, American Lady, Red-spotted Purple, Monarch, Viceroy, and Spring Spring Azure (not a typo – there are Spring Spring Azures and Summer Spring Azures).  Ninebark bloomed in time to support an emerging generation of Red Admirals – the BugLady counted more than 25 on one shrub.

Also seen were a Zelus assassin bug, a soldier beetle, honeybees, ants, and long-legged flies

Kate Redmond, The BugLady

Bug of the Week archives:
http://uwm.edu/field-station/category/bug-of-the-week/

Bug o’the Week – Three More Bluets

Greetings, BugFans,

Seasoned BugFans know that the BugLady can’t go too long without writing about Odonates.

Quick review: Dragonflies and damselflies are in the order Odonata.  Dragonflies tend to be bigger and bulkier than damselflies, with wrap-around eyes that touch at the top of the head in most families, and with wings that are held out at about 90 degrees at rest.  Damselflies tend to be slimmer and smaller (though our longest damsels are longer than our smallest dragons), with eyes on the sides of their heads like a hammerhead shark, and with wings held over their backs or in a “V” at rest.  They’ve been around for more than 250 million years.

Bluets are damselflies in the Narrow-winged/Pond Damsel family Coenagrionidae.  As a group, the Narrow-winged damselflies are found near a variety of permanent, unpolluted wetlands with still-to-slow waters.  They lay their eggs (mostly) in submerged vegetation, and their aquatic offspring, naiads (“nymphs,” if you must, but never “larvae”) clamber around in underwater debris or on plants, ambushing the small invertebrates that swim by.  Adults are often found in or on the edges of stands of grasses, cattails, reeds, etc., where they are concealed from their predators (which include larger damselflies and dragonflies).  They prey on flying insects, and their forays are usually short ones.

Coenagrionidae is a big family of small damselflies (3,000 species – 135 in North America), represented in Wisconsin by dancers, forktails, bluets and sprites.  The BugLady wandered through the other genera of Pond damsels recently, and it took her breath away:

Red damsels – https://bugguide.net/node/view/402209/bgpage,

Black and white Damsels https://bugguide.net/node/view/241908/bgpage,

Aurora Damsels – https://bugguide.net/node/view/1616337/bgimage and https://bugguide.net/node/view/1309087/bgimage,

Painted Damsels – https://bugguide.net/node/view/1373017/bgpage,

Swamp Damsels – https://bugguide.net/node/view/1637415/bgpage,

Yellowfaces – https://bugguide.net/node/view/1638137/bgimage,

Firetails – https://bugguide.net/node/view/522811/bgimage,

and this little beauty – https://bugguide.net/node/view/916471/bgpage.

Road trip.

Many bluets are habitat generalists, but others are specialists.  Although they’re sometimes found far from water, they mostly live near the wetland that produced them.  Some male bluets are easy to identify, like this amazing Vesper Bluet (https://bugguide.net/node/view/437458/bgimage), but most are not, unless you have a net, and a hand lens with which to view the claspers/terminal appendages.  Photographs are usually inadequate for the task, so the BugLady has a big collection of “bluet X” pictures and, because photographers like to label their pictures, she undoubtedly has some “hastily-identified” bluet pictures, too.  Females, less flashy than males, can be even more confusing – they often come in a few color forms, and some individuals even have male coloration.

Visually (for “ease” in identification, not taxonomically) the three dozen or so species of bluets in the American bluet genus Enallagma are divided into four groups, based on the amount of blue on the male’s abdomen – “blue” bluets, “black” bluets, “intermediate” bluets, and “other” (in our neck of the woods, “other” means the dazzling Rainbow, Orange, and Vesper Bluets).  Seventeen genus members occur in Wisconsin, plus two species of Eurasian bluets in the genus Coenagrion.

Remember – there isn’t any blue pigment.  A bluet’s blue is “structural” – light bounces off special cells under the cuticle, and the wavelength our eye receives it as is aqua blue.

Without further ado, here are three common damsels that brighten the BugLady’s path from early-summer through mid-fall:

 

The TULE BLUET (Enallagma carunculatum) is found across the continent from southern Canada into Mexico near ponds, lakes of all sizes, and slow portions of streams, especially those with bulrushes growing along the edges.  It can tolerate moderately salty or alkaline water and is most common in the first half of summer.  Adults eat a lot of mayflies, and they sometimes pluck a sitting insect off its perch.

It’s a “mid-type bluet,” with narrow-but-noticeable blue rings around its abdomen.  Female Tule Bluets are blue or tannish, and to the BugLady’s eye, their colors have a pearly finish.

Males defend territories near the water’s edge, and after mating, he continues to grip her while she oviposits in the stems of bulrushes and other emergent plants (“contact guarding”).  Bob DuBois tell us in Damselflies of Minnesota, Wisconsin & Michigan that Tule Bluets are able to hybridize with Familiar Bluets and River Bluets.

[Etymological Aside: Tule (pronounced too-lee) is a common name given to several species of bulrushes that grow in marshes.  According to Wikipedia, it comes from a Nahuatl/Aztec word (“tollin”) that was adopted by the Spanish during their conquest of Mexico and applied to similar plants they found in California wetlands in the 1500’s.  The old California saying, “out in the tules” is akin to “out in the boondocks” (“boondock,” in turn, comes from a Tagalog/Philippine term for mountain or remote area).]

STREAM BLUETS (Enallagma exsulans) are “black-type bluets” that grace the edges of streams, rivers, and sometimes ponds starting in early summer (the BugLady photographed a female Stream Bluet at Spruce Lake Bog, and it took a few spins of her mental Rolodex to realize what she was looking at because – no stream).  They’re found in the eastern half of the country and they can be abundant.  DuBois says that they are “often found in the company of dancers (the damselfly variety of dancers, that is),” and that’s certainly true at Waubedonia Park where, at times, two out of every three damselflies seems to be either a Stream Bluet or a Powdered Dancer.

In a group where the females are often dull-colored, the lime green females with their tan/gold shoulder and eye stripes are spectacular.  His 9th abdominal segment is all blue, and the 8th is blue with a dark “V-shaped” notch on top; unlike many female bluets, she also shows blue on the tip of her abdomen.

They have a remarkably long mating period for a damselfly, averaging 1 ¼ hour.  Females often submerge completely while ovipositing in plant stems, sometimes for as long as 30 minutes – he may accompany her part way, but he usually releases her before he goes under.

The BugLady enjoys seeing FAMILIAR BLUETS (Enallagma civile) on her walks in late summer, after most other bluets have faded away.  Although the size of this “blue-type bluet” is comparable to the other two (1 ¼” to 1 ½”), it seems “beefier,” and its claspers are distinctive enough to be recognizable in a photograph.

They like a variety of wetland types across most of the continent and throughout Central America.  They are not picky about water quality, and they are inveterate colonizers of newly-formed wetlands.

Single males spend most of their time near the water, and females are unceremoniously snatched up by males if they approach the water’s edge.  A tandem pair makes exploratory flights, looking for good habitat, before she oviposits.  Beck and Bick, in an article in the Southwestern Naturalist in 1963, wrote that “One Familiar Bluet pair oviposited above the water for 158 minutes, then the female went underwater and oviposited there for another 15 minutes. One female ovipositing at the surface saw her guarding mate eaten by a Giant Water Bug, but continued to oviposit even after the bug finished eating the mate and made several attempts to seize her.

Like those of the Tule and Stream Bluets, Familiar Bluet eggs hatch quickly, the youngsters grow fast, and they overwinter as late-stage naiads.

The BugLady gives Thanks for damselflies.

Kate Redmond, The BugLady

Bug of the Week archives:
http://uwm.edu/field-station/category/bug-of-the-week/

Giving thanks for the Riveredge Family

Dear Riveredge Family,

I wish I could invite you all over for a gigantic Thanksgiving Feast. I’d make a huge pumpkin pie served with lots of hand-whipped cream. I’d raise you the best heritage turkey and serve it with Riveredge grown butternut squash. And for our vegetarian friends, I’d make sure to have lots and lots of Riveredge beets, potatoes, apple cider, and hazelnuts on the menu as well. We’d top it all off with maple syrup, and maybe a side course of pancakes…of course!

The magical world of Riveredge Nature Center only occurs because of the Riveredge Family. Thank you for being part of that family. If you volunteer…thank you. If you hike the trails…thank you. If you join the fun of the Frothy Forage, Pancake Breakfast, or Farm-to-Table Dinner…thank you. If you spend your days learning, growing, and exploring at Riveredge…thank you. If you choose Riveredge as a recipient of a charitable gift…thank you.

For, you see, we can’t do any of this alone. We can only change the world, and make it a bit brighter every day, through joining hands and doing this work together.

If I was able to pull off a gigantic Thanksgiving feast for the Riveredge Family, I’d need a really, really, big table. In the year ahead, we’d like to make that table even larger!

So as a way to further inspire folks to choose a nature-rich life outdoors, we are opening the trails at Riveredge from Thursday – Sunday free of charge. As this holiday season begins, we invite you to celebrate great company amidst the scent of cedars, the tussle of tumbling leaves, the calming flow of the Milwaukee River. Invite the poeple in your life to experience this magical nature preserve made possible by YOU, the Riveredge Family.

So, after you are done passing the pumpkin pie, spread the word and share this little piece of heaven on earth. Come for a hike at Riveredge and bring the entire extended family, friends, and anyone else who has a seat at your Thanksgiving Table.

And, most importantly, please know the incredible gratitude we have for YOU not only today, but every day of every year. You make a difference!

 

With great gratitude,

Jessica Jens
Executive Director
Riveredge Kid Since 2013

 

 

Opt Outside this Weekend!

Riveredge Nature Center buildings will be closed Thursday, November 28 and re-opening Monday, December 2. As always, our trails are open sunup to sundown and for this Thanksgiving weekend we’re thanking our community by inviting everyone to opt outside and explore Riveredge free of charge! 


With more than 379 acres of land and ten miles of meandering trails, wild Wisconsin is closer than you imagine. Lose yourself in one of the most beautifully restored natural sanctuaries in southeastern Wisconsin. With prairies, woods, ponds, and over one mile of Milwaukee River shoreline, you’ll always have something new to explore at Riveredge.


Wisconsin’s gun deer hunting season takes place Saturday, November 23 – Sunday, December 1. Riveredge Nature Center does not permit any hunting on the grounds. We are, however, located in a rural area and surrounded by other rural farm and forested properties. For sake of safety, we encourage everyone to wear blaze orange and bright colors while exploring the outdoors, throughout Wisconsin, during this time of year.

Bug o’the Week – Xorides stigmapterus Wasp

Greetings, BugFans,

This summer, the BugLady got a “what is this?” email from BugFan Debra that contained a picture of this beautiful black wasp with white spats, taken in northern Wisconsin by a friend of hers (thanks, Debra!).  The posture was reminiscent of our local Giant Ichneumon wasps (https://uwm.edu/field-station/giant-ichneumon-wasp/), but there are only four species in that genus, and this wasn’t any of them.  So, the BugLady suggested that Debra send the picture to the entomology department at UW-Madison, where almost-BugFan PJ identified it.  He noted that its “dapper black & white appearance is pretty distinctive” and ID’d it as Xorides stigmapterus (no common name), an ichneumon that is related, but not super-closely, to the Giant Ichneumons and that has a similar lifestyle.

Here’s the thing about the family Ichneumonidae – it’s a huge family (60,000 species worldwide and counting) that are generally easy to recognize as Ichneumons but tricky to ID to species, and most of their larvae make their living as parasitoids – feeding in or on the living bodies of their hosts, some even using viruses to disable their host’s immune system.

Xorides genus members target the larvae of a few families of beetles, wasps, and Lepidopterans.  Bugguide.net says that “Xorides stigmapterus occupies an immense geographic range from subarctic Labrador and Alaska south to Minnesota and Iowa on the west and Florida in the east.”  Within that range, it favors mature woods and is a pretty picky eater; its larvae parasitize, as far as we know, only the larvae of a few Cerambycids (long-horned beetles), notably the Six-banded long-horned beetle (Dryobius sexnotatushttps://bugguide.net/node/view/1543118 and Trigonarthris proxima https://bugguide.net/node/view/59263.

Females use their antennae to sense the vibrations of beetle larvae within a tree (“antennating”) and then they use their filamentous ovipositor to deposit an egg in the chamber where its host awaits, or even on the host, itself (to this end, the egg must be semi-solid/almost liquid in order to make the journey through that slender, curved tube).  The larva hatches and tunnels into its host, and its method of feeding keeps its host alive as long as the wasp larva needs fresh food.

Females are conspicuous during the 15 to 60 minutes that it takes them to discover, drill and deposit; some are picked off by predators in the process, and their ovipositors can be found sticking out of the bark.

If you Google this wasp, you won’t find a lot about its life story, but it’s such a beauty that there are a lot of hits on photo sites.  There are also a lot of videos of females ovipositing, but the BugLady tries to practice safe surfing and will let BugFans track down the videos for themselves.

Kate Redmond, The BugLady

Bug o’the Week – Whirligig beetle redux

Howdy, BugFans,

Here’s an updated BOTW from 10 years ago (more words).

Whirligig beetles are referred to in Kaufman and Eaton’s Field Guide to Insects of North America as the “bumper cars of the beetle world.”  Looking like dark watermelon seeds, mobs of whirligig beetles scoot across the still waters of ponds, lakes, and the slower sections of streams and rivers.  They are seldom alone, and a very large “school” may contain as many as a dozen different species of whirligigs (there are about 60 species in North America and about 850 others elsewhere).

Whirligigs are in the order Coleoptera (beetles) and in the Family Gyrinidae (which has its roots in the Greek “gyr” meaning “ring,” “circle,” or “spiral”).  Most are in either the ½” long genus Dineutes or the ¼” long Gyrinus.  Their basic designs are similar – domed elytra (hard wing covers) that end just before the abdomen does, appendages that tuck in so the beetles are streamlined https://bugguide.net/node/view/377432/bgimage, and a shiny, black finish covered by a waxy, water-repellant, outer layer.

Whirligig beetles’ eyes are split – handy for a predator, because half of each eye lies below the water line and half rises above it https://bugguide.net/node/view/758727/bgimage, so they can view two worlds at once.  They are pretty impressive on the water’s surface – they row in straight lines and circles with their flattened and fringed middle and hind pairs of legs (they hold their front pair of legs, which are modified for grasping, forward).  They are good swimmers underwater, and they migrate from pond to pond by flying https://bugguide.net/node/view/274264/bgimage.

They may dive (or swim in circles) when alarmed, and they can secrete a smelly substance (gyrinidal) that deters predators – a fish that has sampled a whirligig beetle doesn’t try a second one – and also warns nearby whirligigs that danger is afoot.  It smells a little like apples, and so these beetles are sometimes called “apple-bugs,” or “apple-smellers.”

When on the surface, they breathe air from the atmosphere, but they tuck an air bubble under their wings when they dive.  Because of that air bubble, whirligigs that venture under water must either swim hard or grab aquatic vegetation to keep from popping up to the surface.

To an animal the size of an insect, the top layer of water molecules is a sticky film.  For some that live below the surface, it can be a prison that they aren’t strong enough to break through.  Whirligigs and water striders and some springtails skate on top of it, snails and leeches glide belly up on its under-surface, but other insects get stuck on it when they fly too close.  Whirligig beetles find their food stuck in that film – the last two segments of their stubby antennae https://bugguide.net/node/view/420650/bgimage are used to detect the tiny waves made by insects struggling on the surface film.  They also scavenge on floating dead material.  In A Guide to Common Freshwater Invertebrates of North America, Voshell surmises that “the waves that the adult whirligig beetles generate when swimming may function for the echolocation of food, like sonar used by ships at sea.”

Ms. Whirligig lays her eggs on underwater plants.  Like their parents, the larvae are “engulfer-predators;” they swim or climb on submerged vegetation, eating water mites, snails, worms, and other small aquatic insects (especially mosquito larvae/pupae), as well as their own brethren.  They puncture their prey with hollow mandibles and extract the innards.  Larvae https://bugguide.net/node/view/1432827/bgimage pick up dissolved oxygen from the water through their skin and also by means of external gills located on the sides of their abdomens.

When they are ready to pupate, they build a case of mud, sand, or leaf pieces, stuck together with gluey saliva, on a damp shoreline.  Dineutes adds to the degree of difficulty by doing this upside down, suspended over its building material from vegetation by its posterior hooks (think Houdini in a straitjacket), stretching down to grab one mouthful at a time to construct a pupal case (the BugLady is not making this up!).  Adults overwinter at the bottom of their river or pond.

Two other interesting whirligig-facts:

Ann Haven Morgan reports in Field Book of Ponds and Streams that a researcher who fed freshly-killed larvae to captive adult Dineutes observed a piranha-like feeding frenzy.  “As many as could would seize the insect, crowd around it, grasping it, whirling around it in wild curves and sometimes diving beneath the surface, but always holding on to their prey and tearing out mouthfuls of insect tissue.

The charming, second fact, that males can squeak, isn’t quite enough to banish that mental picture.

Apparently, one of the things that alarms them is cameras, and this is another species that has defied the BugLady’s attempts to get an in-focus photograph (thank goodness for the folks at bugguide.nethttps://bugguide.net/node/view/1737886/bgimagehttps://bugguide.net/node/view/956320/bgimage.  On the other hand, since Voshell says that they’ve been clocked at speeds up to 1 meter per second (another source said 44 body lengths/second), the BugLady doesn’t feel so bad.

Kate Redmond, The BugLady

Bug of the Week archives:
http://uwm.edu/field-station/category/bug-of-the-week/

Bug o’the Week – Zebra Caddisfly

Greetings, BugFans,

Another week, another zebra.

The BugLady had fun chasing this dynamite little insect along the banks of the Milwaukee River at Waubedonia Park in mid-summer (it likes to perch on the undersides of leaves).  She had never seen one before, but after a few false starts, she discovered that it’s a Zebra caddisfly (Macrostemum zebratum) (aka Macronema zebratum or Macronemum zebratum, depending on whose book you read), and that it’s considered pretty common.  She had to adjust her mind set about what she had considered a pretty dowdy group https://bugguide.net/node/view/1728391/bgimage.  For some basic Caddisfly facts and an explanation of the origin of their name, see https://uwm.edu/field-station/caddisfly/.

Many of the internet hits for caddisflies come from the trout-fishing community, where adult caddisflies are often called “sedges.”

ZCs are in the caddisfly Order Trichoptera (“hairy wings”), and in the Net-spinning caddisfly family Hydropsychidae which, according to bugguide.net, means “water nymph.”  Hydropsychid larvae are found in rivers and streams across North America; they are (today’s vocabulary word) “rheophilus,” (from the Greek rheos” (flow) and philus (to love)).  Adults are short-lived – some species are nectar feeders as adults, but others don’t feed at all – and they’re generally found on vegetation near the larval river.

Caddisflies are famous for using available material to build tubular cases that they drag around with them (one author calls them “mobile homes”), but the Net-spinning caddisflies don’t do that.  Instead, they make an immovable shelter/retreat on a submerged rock, in a crevice between rocks, in debris, or on aquatic vegetation.  They spin a silk trap net nearby in order to snag the edibles that float downstream, they poke the front end of their body out of their retreat periodically to check their catch, and they keep their silken nets clean.  Algae-eaters knit a fine-meshed net, and larvae that fed on larger particles make a coarser sieve.  Hydropsychid larvae breathe using tufts of gills on their abdomens.

Caddisflies mate at dusk near the water’s edge.  Females of some species, including the Hydropsychids, have concave, fringed legs that allow them to swim down to deposit their gel-covered egg masses (up to 800 eggs) on submerged surfaces.  Other species release their eggs at the surface or attach them to plants just above the water, so the larva will fall in after hatching.

Hydropsychid larvae actively defend their small territory.  Making trap webs is energy intensive so they protect them by “stridulating” (making noise by rubbing bumps on their femurs across the side of their head) to discourage wandering caddis larvae from entering.  If noise doesn’t deter the intruder, physical combat ensues.

Animals that live in strong currents need adaptations to keep from being swept downstream.  Net-spinning caddisflies have claws on their prolegs so they can grip the slippery rock surfaces where they live and can hold onto the inside of their shelter (prolegs are stubby, hydraulically-powered stubs on the underside of the abdomen that help the larva navigate).  Even though they can hang on, caddisflies may “let go” and drift in order to find new territories, and drift can also carry eggs downstream.  Waubedonia Park has had some severe floods during the past two summers, and it’s mind-boggling to think of how the strong currents that scour the river bed can uproot and redistribute aquatic species.

The ZC is a Midwestern/Eastern species that has fairly broad tolerance for fluctuating currents, temperature, and water clarity, but its habitat must contain lots of organic particles http://www.flyfishingentomology.com/NACaddisflySpeciesDistributionMapQuery2.php?sn=Macrostemum%20zebratum.  It is not as sensitive to pollution as many of its relatives are.

ZC larvae https://bugguide.net/node/view/165204/bgimage eat algae and diatoms as well as tiny crustaceans and aquatic insects (they are omnivore-detritivores), and they are eaten by trout and smallmouth bass.  Adults that have chewed their way out of their underwater pupal cases and are floating/swimming to the surface are picked off by fish, and so are adults that are resting on the surface.  Fishing lore abounds with stories about big hatches and about the anglers selecting a lure that correctly “matches the hatch.”  Adults are also eaten by birds, frogs, bats, spiders, and dragonflies, and the larvae are parasitized by a wasp that ventures below the surface to find them.

When fishermen meet caddisflies, the result is a lure for fly casting https://www.pinterest.com/wetyourknot/caddis-nymph-larva-pupa-fly-patterns/.  To see another human/caddisfly intersection, Google “caddisfly case jewelry.”

Kate Redmond, The BugLady

Bug of the Week archives:
http://uwm.edu/field-station/category/bug-of-the-week/

Bug o’the Week – Zebra Caterpillar

Howdy, BugFans,

There’s a saying among lepidopterists that the more handsome the caterpillar, the drabber the moth.  Without getting all judgy here, today’s bug seems to bear that out https://bugguide.net/node/view/794954.

The BugLady photographed these beautiful caterpillars on a cold and blustery day at the start of October, a day when nearby New England asters were topped by sluggish bumblebees (bumblebees are sometimes called, only half-jokingly, a “warm-blooded bees”).  The caterpillars weren’t too active, either.  They’re called Zebra caterpillars (of course!), the larva of the Zebra caterpillar moth, a.k.a. Zebra Arches (Melanchra picta), a moth named for its caterpillar.  It’s in the Owlet moth family Noctuidae, and it’s found in grasslands, gardens, and disturbed areas across North America, mostly north of the Mason-Dixon Line.

The caterpillars feed toward the end of the growing season on an array of plants, from alfalfa to willow, and because many of their hosts are cultivated crops, they are considered pests in some areas.  Females lay their eggs in masses; caterpillars are gregarious leaf skeletonizers in their early stages, but they become solitary as they get older.  Adults have a long flight period, and both adults and caterpillars are abroad throughout the summer and into fall.  They overwinter as pupae in chambers in the soil.  When the caterpillars are alarmed, they roll up into a ball and drop off the leaf.

In some areas of the Northwest, the larvae can be numerous enough to be crop pests; in the East, they can be hard to find.  One suspect is a tachinid fly that was introduced to control the introduced Gypsy moth but that took a liking to native moths, too.  In a paper called “Moth Decline in the Northeastern United States” published in the News of the Lepidopterists Society in 2012, David Wagner states that “I am unaware of any sightings of the zebra caterpillar (Melanchra picta) in more than 10 years.

The Zebra caterpillar moth was first described in 1841 by Thaddeus William Harris (1795 to 1856), another of our early entomologists/naturalists who started his life as a physician and who later excelled in a number of fields.

Harris practiced medicine, was a botanist (he was once beaten in an application for a faculty job at Harvard College by the famous botanist Asa Gray) and an entomologist (he compiled the first systematic listing of American insects, and he eventually specialized on moths).  He worked as the Harvard librarian, where he lectured on natural history (to Henry David Thoreau, among others!), started the Harvard Natural History Society, and co-founded the Massachusetts Horticultural Society.  Along the way, he established himself as the founder of applied entomology because of his Report on the Insects of Massachusetts, Injurious to Vegetation (1841).  And he had a dozen kids.

Kate Redmond, The BugLady

Bug of the Week archives:
http://uwm.edu/field-station/category/bug-of-the-week/

Bug o’the Week – Raspberry Crown Borer

Howdy, BugFans,

Once again, the BugLady fell for an insect’s disguise.  It sure looked like a sluggish yellowjacket sitting on a raspberry leaf, and it wasn’t until she took a picture of it that she noticed all of its hairs/scales.  Not a yellowjacket.

Some bugs require a lot of digging to find even the most meager pieces of their biography, but there are insects like the star of today’s show, where the board lights up with 164,000 hits in 0.51 seconds.  Many of them are from University Extension services and from commercial horticultural and extermination websites across the continent.

The Raspberry crown borer/Blackberry clearwing borer (Pennisetia marginata) is a moth in the Clear-winged moth family Sesiidae (not to be confused with the chunky Hummingbird clear-winged moths https://bugguide.net/node/view/1556613/bgimage, which are in the Sphinx moth bunch).  We have visited the family before in the form of the squash borer moth https://uwm.edu/field-station/cornworms-and-hornworms-and-squash-borers/ and the eupatorium borer moth https://uwm.edu/field-station/bugs-without-bios-xiii/.

Quick vocabulary review: The “clear” in “Clear-winged moth” comes from the transparent areas on their wings https://bugguide.net/node/view/70211/bgimage.  This scale-free area, plus their narrow wings, long legs, and banded abdomen combine to give them a wasp-like appearance (as Wikipedia says, it’s “… hymenopteriform Batesian mimicry.”).  In raspberry and blackberry plants, “crown” refers not to the leafy tops of the plant but to the root crown, the area at the base of the stems/canes where they grow out of the roots.  And, nota bene, there’s also a beetle called the Raspberry cane borer.

Males and females look pretty much alike, but males are smaller and are equipped with feathery antennae that allow them to pick up the pheromone signals of the females.  Here are a picture of a male’s antennae https://bugguide.net/node/view/1275323/bgimage, and of two moths (https://bugguide.net/node/view/1438555/bgimage) – female on the left and male on the right.

In the southern part of its range, it only takes a year to complete its life cycle, but the larval stage may span two winters in the north, and it’s the larva that does the damage.  Eggs are laid on the underside of a host plant leaf in the second half of summer, and when they hatch, the caterpillars travel down the cane to its base (or drop down on a strand of silk).  There they form a blister-like hibernaculum under the bark where they overwinter.  They wake up hungry in spring, and chew into new canes, which they may girdle just above the ground, killing or weakening the cane.  One larva may ding three or four canes in a year.  In the north, they continue making galleries in the canes after their second winter or they move to the nearby roots to feed.  In any case, they pupate in summer.

One man’s trash is another man’s treasure.  The Raspberry crown borer is mostly found in (and is unwelcome in) the eastern half of North America, with some populations in the Pacific Northwest.  But, it was deliberately introduced into Hawaii, that great ecological petri dish, to control the previously-deliberately-introduced-and-now-invasive blackberries.

Kate Redmond, The BugLady

Bug of the Week archives:
http://uwm.edu/field-station/category/bug-of-the-week/

Bug o’the Week – Bugs in the News VII

Greetings, BugFans,

There’s a wild and wonderful world of bugs out there – here are some reports from around the globe.

Some people hire an exterminator to get rid of bugs, and some purchase them illegally https://www.nationalgeographic.com/animals/2019/09/bug-smuggling-big-business/?cmpid=org=ngp::mc=crm-email::src=ngp::cmp=editorial::add=Animals_20190905::rid=48AE4CBEC4A693AB58F7A257B0A261AD. 

If ambush bugs depend on camouflage to help them procure a meal, then this guy is in trouble: https://bugguide.net/node/view/431892/bgpage.

Global (and fungal) weirdness in the Himalayas – https://www.theatlantic.com/science/archive/2018/10/tibetan-caterpillar-fungus-trouble/573607/?fbclid=IwAR2WVQ00MBBb5FFww7p54WFGi7Hflgs1PlXGFhrvno-Lv_j-gMjxu-Q-fs0.

A ladybug swarm that showed up on radar because: a) there were a whole lot of them; and b) they were flying a mile above the earth! (Who knew?), plus a new collective noun https://www.npr.org/2019/06/06/730254007/spotted-a-swarm-of-ladybugs-so-huge-it-showed-up-on-national-weather-service-rad.

Also in the “Who knew” department, the story of marine organisms hitching a ride – probably the way things have been getting done from the start https://www.npr.org/2019/08/25/754190347/giant-pumice-raft-floating-towards-australia-could-help-replenish-great-barrier-?utm_source=npr_newsletter&utm_medium=email&utm_content=20190826&utm_campaign=news&utm_term=nprnews&utm_id=2548916.

Alabama may have missed out on Hurricane Dorian, but it has other things to recommend it https://www.smithsonianmag.com/smart-news/alabamians-beware-wasp-super-nest-180972528/?utm_source=smithsoniandaily&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=20190701-daily-responsive&spMailingID=40100879&spUserID=ODg4Mzc3MzY0MTUyS0&spJobID=1560091426&spReportId=MTU2MDA5MTQyNgS2.

Halloween is just around the corner – what could be more in the spirit of the season than a zombie ant fungus?  https://www.theatlantic.com/science/archive/2017/11/how-the-zombie-fungus-takes-over-ants-bodies-to-control-their-minds/545864/.

In anticipation of the Polar Vortex (the BugLady looked at the month-ahead forecast, and it’s all downhill from here; she’s doing her best to scare it away by getting out her fuzzy socks and flannel sheets),here’s how a small fly handles extreme cold – https://www.smithsonianmag.com/smart-news/how-antarcticas-only-insect-resident-survives-freezing-temperatures-180973087/?utm_source=smithsoniandaily&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=20190910-daily-responsive&spMailingID=40618350&spUserID=ODg4Mzc3MzY0MTUyS0&spJobID=1601014406&spReportId=MTYwMTAxNDQwNgS2.

and finally, for those of us who just like to look at the pictures, a collection of images made by a Scanning Electronic Microscope (SEM) – https://www.nationalgeographic.com/science/2019/02/hidden-world-microscopic-life-revealed-extraordinary-pictures/?cmpid=org=ngp::mc=crm-email::src=ngp::cmp=editorial::add=sunstills_20190310::rid=2030610309.

Kate Redmond, The BugLady

Bug of the Week archives:
http://uwm.edu/field-station/category/bug-of-the-week/

Bug o’the Week – Ailanthus Webworm Moth

Greetings, BugFans,

It’s always a treat to find one of these jewel-like insects nectaring, usually on goldenrod.  They are day-flying moths, though their tendency to sit with wings wrapped around their bodies makes them look like beetles, and their bright colors make them wasp-like in flight.

Ailanthus webworm moths (Atteva aurea) (“aurea” means “golden”) are in the family Attevidae, the tropical ermine moths.  And tropical they are, except for the AWM (Ailanthus webworm moth, not “angry white men”), which has shed some of its southern proclivities.

Before 1784, AWMs were found in southern Florida and points south, their caterpillars feeding peacefully on the leaves of several species of native trees in the genus Simarouba in the Quassia family (Simaroubaceae).  In 1784, a related Chinese tree called the Ailanthus tree or Tree of Heaven (Aitanthus altissima) was introduced into Philadelphia.  On the plus side, it grows like crazy and tolerates city pollution well.  On the minus side, it grows like crazy, producing suckers by the bushel and killing neighboring trees via allelopathic chemicals.  And it stinks – it’s sometimes called “Stinking sumac” (it’s not related to our common sumacs), and the Chinese name for the species (“chouchun”) translates as “foul-smelling tree.”  It’s considered a noxious weed in parts of Europe, the US, and Down Under, and it’s sometimes called “Tree from Hell.”

It turned out that Tree of Heaven can thrive in colder climates than its Florida relatives and that it was acceptable fare for the AWMs.  So, when Ailanthus trees eventually extended their range south into Florida, the moth hopped on board and moved north.

Though it still can’t survive a Polar Vortex, the AWM has extended its range considerably; the moths recolonize the northeastern parts of North America each summer, and climate change is allowing it to establish resident populations farther north.

As its name suggests, the larva https://bugguide.net/node/view/693752/bgimage is a dietary specialist, feeding (almost) exclusively on Tree of Heaven (bugguide.net contributors also report seeing it on sumac).  Ailanthus leaves are a veritable pharmacy of chemicals, including substances that retard growth, feeding, and reproduction.  There are three ways that insects deal with toxic food plants – they don’t eat them, they’re really good at eliminating the chemicals quickly, or they’re able to sequester poisons in special organs where they don’t bother the caterpillar but can harm its predators.  AWMs can get away with those striking colors because, due to their caterpillar’s diet, they taste bad, and birds avoid them.  The presumably-more-edible Gold-banded cydosia moth dodges predators by mimicking the AWM (https://bugguide.net/node/view/314682).

The gregarious AWM larvae throw a web of silk around a bunch of leaflets and then feed inside this shelter https://bugguide.net/node/view/1043954/bgimage; their short, stiff hairs keep them from falling out of it (although an alarmed caterpillar will back out of the webbing and drop, attached to its home by a strand of silk).  It’s an all-purpose abode – they feed inside the webbing (and some sources said they feed outside it at night), they make their pupal cases in it, and they lay their eggs on the silk “tent,” too (on their natal web or on someone else’s) https://bugguide.net/node/view/1043971/bgimage.  The journey from egg to adult takes about a month, the adults are long-lived, and there are several generations per year.  For some nice pictures of life cycle, see https://bygl.osu.edu/index.php/node/381.

It wasn’t until 1911 that a chance observation by a Philadelphia entomologist connected the moth to the tree.  The next question was, “If the tree was introduced, where did the moth come from?”  For that story, see https://www.researchgate.net/publication/309678701_AILANTHUS_WEBWORM_MOTH_Atteva_aurea.

According to the great website Illinois Wildflowers, (http://www.illinoiswildflowers.info/) which includes information about the “Faunal Associations” of plants, the Tree of Heaven/Hell is also a host of the spectacular Ailanthus Silkworm/Cynthia moth (Samia cynthia) (https://bugguide.net/node/view/313264/bgimage and https://bugguide.net/node/view/330267/bgimage) whose story turned out quite differently than the AWM’s.  It was brought here from China in the 1860’s to produce silk, and, of course, it escaped.  Despite its caterpillar’s diet, neither the adult silk moth nor its larvae is chemically protected.  The Ailanthus silkworm is mostly found in the urban areas along the Atlantic Coast where its host lives, but its distribution is spotty, and bugguide.net questions whether any wild populations remain.

Kate Redmond, The BugLady

Bug of the Week archives:
http://uwm.edu/field-station/category/bug-of-the-week/